Thursday, April 13, 2017

get me to the church on time

Today is Maundy Thursday.

I was not raised in a liturgical tradition. My Christianity is more plain-spoken. In fact, when I first heard the phrase "Maundy Thursday," I thought it was a Mama and Papas song gone wrong.

It is Holy Week here in Colombia. Of course, it is Holy Week throughout the world. But, in its guise as semana santa, it is a very special week in Latin America.

Back home in Barra de Navidad, Mexican tourists are flooding the town. You could almost believe that the interior of Mexico en masse this week to decamp to the beach. I was curious what Colombians do.

A lot of them go to the beach. But the residents of Bogota head out into the surrounding countryside for a long weekend.

We decided to join the throngs heading out of town today. Our destination? The town of Zipaquira, 30 miles north of Bogota.

There is nothing special about the town itself -- other than the fact that the local restaurants serve up a mean plate of carne a la llanera, a vice in which we indulged. 

The big attraction is a large salt dome in town. The local Muisca indians mined salt from the dome for almost 2000 years before the Spanish arrived in Colombia in the early 1500s.

The mine is still active. In the 1930s, the miners dug out a place of worship inside the salt mine. A more formal "cathedral" (the term is an honorific; no bishop has his see here) was built in the 1950s. Structural problems -- we are talking about digging through salt -- caused the closure of that structure.

A new "cathedral" was opened in 1995. And it is the perfect Catholic retreat for Easter.

Each station of the cross has a chamber carved out to reflect its significance -- complete with kneeling platforms for the devout. The only people I saw kneeling there were indulging in the sin of vanity. Mea selfie; mea selfie; mea maxima selfie.

There is also a dome carved in the ceiling of the mine. It marks the transition from the stations to the church itself.

Then there is the carved church itself with its three traditional naves.

I love church architecture. This place struck me most with its simplicity. After all, it was a place of worship for miners. Originally, at least. Before it became a tourist attraction for the devout and the not-so-devout.

The church is simple enough that even writers with Quaker sensibilities feel comfortable. The cross above the altar, like almost everything else, is carved from the mine's salt and rock. Even the lighting (that shifts slowly) is done tastefully.

When we returned to Bogota, the skies were clear. That was a first for this visit.
One spot tops the "things to see" list for most visitors to Bogota -- the Monserrate Sanctuary, sitting high above Bogota on a ridge.

Besides being Bogota’s number one tourist attractions, it is a functioning church. And, during semana santa, mass after mass is celebrated.

We had put off visiting the church earlier in the week because the clouds were low enough, there would be no view. But this afternoon, the weather was clear.

When we returned to Bogota from Zipaquira, we combined a cab ride with a healthy walk over to the base of the ridge.

We were not alone. Because this is a religious holiday, it appeared that anyone who did not drive out to the country was intent on taking either the cable car or the funicular to the top. I have seen shorter lines at Disneyland.

But the time spent in line was worth it. The view of the city -- a city that stretches far out of sight -- is spectacular.

The church itself is almost Presbyterian in its ornamentation. It has very little.

But that is not why Catholics make the pilgrimage to the sanctuary.

So, today was a church day. As we walked around Bogota this evening, we reviewed the day. Our unanimous verdict was, even though we spent a lot of time in taxis, on a bus, and standing in line, we had a great time learning a bit about another aspect of Colombia.

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